Clashes erupted in Paris next to a Left Bank brasserie favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron as protesters torched garbage cans and smashed two banks during the 11th day of countrywide demonstrations against pension reform.
The bistro La Rotonde, whose awning was set alight as protesters threw bottles and paint at police, is known in France for hosting a much-criticized celebratory dinner for Mr. Macron when he led the first round of the 2017 presidential election.
Protests against the flagship reform of Mr. Macron’s second term, which lifts the retirement age by two years to 64, began in mid-January and have coalesced widespread anger against the President.
Labour unions on Thursday evening called for another day of countrywide protests on April 13.
“Strike, blockade, Macron walk away!” protesters chanted in the western city of Rennes, where police fired tear gas at protesters who threw projectiles at them and set bins on fire.
The street protests have become increasingly violent since the government pushed the pension legislation through parliament without a final vote because of a lack of support among lawmakers.
But police estimates indicate the number of people taking part may be falling.
On Thursday, black-clad anarchists smashed the windows of two banks and engaged riot police in cat-and-mouse skirmishes along the route of the street protest.
One police officer briefly lost consciousness after being struck on the helmet with a rock.
A total of 77 police-force members were injured and 31 people were arrested as of early evening in Paris, police said.
Polls show a wide majority of voters oppose the pension legislation. But a source close to Mr. Macron said that was not what mattered.
“If the role of a president of the republic is to make decisions according to public opinion, there is no need to have elections,” the source said. “Being president is to assume choices that may be unpopular at a given time.”
Union leaders and protesters said the only way out of the crisis was for the legislation to be scrapped, an option that the government has repeatedly rejected.
“There is no other solution than withdrawing the reform,” the new leader of the hard-line CGT union, Sophie Binet, said at the start of the Paris rally.
The number of people striking in schools and disruption to train traffic was down on Thursday from a week earlier. On the streets, CGT said about 400,000 people joined the protest in Paris, down from 450,000 the week before. The interior ministry said 57,000 people attended in Paris, down sharply from the 93,000 reported a week earlier.
Across the country, 570,000 people marched against the reform on Thursday, down from 740,000 a week earlier.
The numbers could bring some hope to officials who say they believe the rallies may be losing steam.
Laurent Berger, the leader of the moderate CFDT union, told France 5 television that the figures were hefty for an 11th day of protests.
“The real issue is that there is widespread resentment and social anger,” Mr. Berger said, adding he condemned the violence.
A crucial date on the issue looms on April 14, when the Constitutional Council delivers its verdict on the pension bill. Constitutional experts say the council is unlikely to strike the legislation down, which may help weaken protests.
“Mobilization will continue, one way or another. … It’s a long-distance race,” the CGT’s Ms. Binet said.
At the Paris rally, nurse Soraya Bouadouia said, “I will be here until the withdrawal of the pension reform, which is a completely unacceptable reform.”
With Mr. Macron on an official trip to Beijing, one protester held a banner that read: “Macron resign. You will hear us all the way to China.”